This review is spoiler free.
Read Or Die: The TV is the sequel to the action packed OVA Read Or Die. It is based on characters who are loosely associated with the cast of the OVA, who are introduced later in the series. The series takes place several years after the occurances in the OVA and many of the characters and players in the ROD universe have taken on stark changes. The best way to describe ROD as a whole is Anime's response to the X-Men and James Bond as well as John Woo. The main characters are paper-users, they have powers similar to those of Magneto, but with respect to paper instead of metal. Their control turns paper into a malleable substance that they can mold into images in their mind. From a simple razor sharp edge to a winged beast the size of a Boeing 747. They are able to harden the paper to the point that it can stop bullets and act as explosion proof armor. The characters are something like a private body-guard firm/detective agency in Hong Kong which takes freelance work from the Hong Kong central library. If this concept seems strange to you, I suggest you watch the OVA first. National libraries, especially those of China and Britain, are something akin to large intelligence and military agencies.
The story begins with Nenene Sumiregawa, famous but slumped Japanese author, going to Hong Kong to promote a new version of her last book. She's picked up at the airport by a very tall woman and a very pretty woman. As the tall woman drives them to Nenene's hotel, the room she was to be staying in explodes. Despite this attack, she is determined to go ahead with her book signing and severely emasculates a Hong Kong detective in the process. The women who picked her up offer to let her stay at their flat and explain that they are book-loving translators and investigators, Michelle and Maggie. Along with their little bibliophobe sister, they are the paper sisters.
The next day, at the book signing, the bomber reveals himself; a crazed Chinese author, angry at foreign authors lording their works over him on Chinese soil. Holding a gun to Sumiregawa's head, he puts a bomb on the table and hands her a pen connected to the bomb by a wire; the pen holds a ball bearing which will detonate the bomb should it hit a pin at either end of the pen. The sisters, until now faded into the background like bystanders, organize a strike. Anita jumps from behind a stack of books and slices the line between Sumiregawa and the bomb pulling her out of the way. Maggie creates a boar made of paper and manuevers it to attack the bomber, while Michelle fires a bow and arrow; piercing the bomb and pulling it out a window. In a flash Maggie's beast turns into a wall of armor over the wide windows as the bomb explodes.
This describes the first ten minutes of the first episode and encapsulates the kernal of action-movie speed with which the series moves, half the time. The Paper Sisters move in with Sumiregawa, partly for her protection. As such Nenene forces Anita, who is still of grade school age to go to middle school nearby during the day. During half of the episodes in the first 15-20 the focus was on Anita adjusting to being in school for the first time. These episodes contain a completely different tone from the action oriented episodes; almost as if there are two different series being shown at once. This series manages to mix Shojo and Action anime into one package.
The purpose for this juxtaposition is to use the action to develop the overarching plot of the series and use the slice of life portion to develop the characters. This separation allows the series to do more with both areas while watching them wash back and forth into each other. At the culmination of the series this entire arrangement is twisted on itself and takes on an entirely different meaning. The OVA's action is melded with the story of a troubled young girl into a show that straddles the line between action and shojo drama. It is heavily reminiscent of the struggle many superhero characters in Western media between a normal life and the world that needs them to use their powers.
ROD is a mix of literary references and inspirations, cinematic action and heavy Western influences. It, along with Hellsing, show an interesting view of the British Empire as a megalithic, exotic entity with huge amounts of influence and power. For someone with numerous connections to the old island I find such opinions interesting and amusing. It is something similar to the manner in which numerous Anime co-opt christian symbolism for virtually decorative use. This series becomes a tad confusing toward the end and there are ways in which the revelations toward the end of the series are almost jarring. These are almost enough to severely detract from the series, but I would argue not.
This series uses action along with character development to familiarize the viewer to the personality and abilities of the characters. The format gives the show a richer texture than most action shows and a more active form than the typical slice of life Shojo. This combination is interesting and the show has a good sense of humor throughout. And for the fan, there is service.
ROD is something a male and female anime fan can watch together and be assured of enjoyable content.